'Time to Choose': Telluride Review

Time to Choose Still - H 2015

Time to Choose Still - H 2015

The images soar, but the words sometimes sink this climate change doc.

Charles Ferguson, the Oscar-winning director of "Inside Job," presents the perils as well as possible solutions to the environmental crisis.

Climate change documentaries have become almost a cottage industry, but with all the deniers and corporate tycoons still waging war against environmental reforms, there probably can’t be too many of these films. Oscar winning director Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight, Inside Job) treads some familiar ground but also offers new insights that make the sometimes pedantic Time to Choose worth seeing.

Ferguson was an academic before turning to filmmaking, and this new documentary sometimes has the unfortunate ring of a classroom lecture. The director focuses on the main crises facing the world—coal and oil production, urban sprawl, deforestation, and industrialization of agriculture. What redeems the movie from message-mongering is first of all the spectacular cinematography. Ferguson filmed all over the world, and the magnificent natural vistas poignantly underscore what we have to lose. The director and his crew also managed to get right in the middle of denuded forests and polluted cities, even filming without permits in China and Indonesia, two of the world’s worst polluters.

The film emphasizes that climate change is truly a global problem.  Ferguson underscores the abuses carried out in China, Brazil, Nigeria as well as the coal fields of Appalachia. He says he tried to get corporate leaders to appear in the film, but they all turned him down. He does get an impressive array of scientists and environmentalists to underscore the perils we face and the possible solutions at hand.

Indeed one of the film’s strengths is that it is not all doom and gloom.  Ferguson points out a number of positive steps that have been taken in many countries to implement alternative sources of energy, suggesting that it will not be impossible to reverse the environmental crisis.  Californians will be pleased to see that Governor Jerry Brown gets high marks for encouraging solar and wind power and eliminating most fossil fuel production. But in other parts of the world, other leaders have also stepped up. One innovative company in China has introduced wind power on a large scale. Solar power has made headway in Kenya. And one mayor in Brazil has introduced a mass transit system that has eliminated a great deal of auto pollution.

Ferguson certainly has some strong, even encouraging points to make.  And he has brought impressive filmmaking skills to his cinematic essay.  Still, one wishes that he had presented his thesis with a little more energy and a little less didacticism.  Oscar Isaac is the narrator, and although he is a splendid actor, he could use a little schooling in the art of voice-over narration.  He hectors us in a dry, deadly schoolmaster’s tone that doesn’t enhance Ferguson’s crusade.  Time to Choose is often striking to watch, but the pedantic soundtrack tends to bring it down.

Director:  Charles Ferguson

Screenwriters:  Charles Ferguson, Chad Beck

Producers:  Audrey Marrs, Charles Ferguson

Directors of photography:  Lula Cerri, Yuanchen Liu, Kalyanee Mam, Heloisa Passos, Lucian Read, Jerry Risius

Editor:  Chad Beck

No rating, 99 minutes